Between mental health, the economy, and brand awareness being such prominent topics, it is probably a good idea to take a look at the largest viral marketing campaign in history: the Great Depression.
First, a little history. The 1920’s, sometimes known as the Roaring Twenties, was a post-war era of American prosperity. This all lasted until the Fire Nation attacked. On Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the Stock Market crashed, officially ushering in the Great Depression. That was the day America’s happiness plummeted. We’ll go into more detail later, but in short, Americans were so sad that the 1920’s were about to end that they literally became depressed and unwilling to work, shepherding in a global economic collapse.
So, why did people love the 1920’s so much? Well, for one, it was an era of prosperity on nearly every level. As documented by the Economic History Association, Gross National Product grew about 4.2% each year, consumer prices fell nearly every year (as shown in the graph above), and mortality rates were going down. Who wouldn’t be happy with those results? But no vacation can last forever. Americans fell so in love with this prosperous era that they inextricably linked it to the decade they lived. “I love the 1920’s!” people kept saying. “I love it, I love it, I love it. I don’t want it to end.” Eventually, it had to.
If you examine other sources, they will try to come up with wacky theories to explain the economic collapse. They’ll have silly explanations. Many will try to claim that it was caused by loose stock market regulations, unregulated banking, and rampant speculation. They are all lying. Those sources are speculating that you are going to blindly trust their theories. I have a history of explaining the world’s mysteries. You can trust me.
How the Depression Became Viral
As a species, humans are very risk-averse. We hate losing things. Well, America did not want to lose the 1920’s. So, when November 1929 was coming and the end of the decade was on its way, Americans became utterly sad. Like a college student entering their final semester, they saw the end on the horizon. Many became bitter. “I never want the 1930’s to top the 1920’s,” many said. The concern was that the 1930’s would not live up to the decade they had just lived through, so why try and top it? So, as a way to bolster their memories of the soon-to-be-gone decade, many Americans simply decided to stop working. A few days before Halloween, many Americans figured the scariest thing they could do was usher in an economic collapse. That way, the entire world would see how good the 1920’s were and would avoid trying to take its glory in the coming years.
In an age before social media, this idea of protesting the coming of the 1930’s became viral. All the youth gave up. They left their jobs, went to the streets, opened up shacks, and decided to live in squalor. Eventually, it became so hip and cool that it became uncool not to do it. So, the excitement people had in this viral protest ended up causing everyone to withdraw their money from the banks. But, because so many banks had extended lending on credit, there was not enough cash to go around. Banks failed, creditors defaulted on their loans, and unemployment rose. The viral marketing campaign to glorify the 1920’s was so successful that in 1933, 11 million Americans became unemployed, totaling about a 25% unemployment rate. Wow! Just try and find another guerilla marketing campaign that will get those kind of results.
The youth of that decade had a goal: deify the 1920’s. By mandating and ensuring a failure of the 1930’s, history has forever remembered the Roaring Twenties as one of the most incredible and awe-inspiring decades in history. The most depressing part is that we forget that it was a mandated marketing campaign by the youth, not a failure of American capitalism.